Thursday, November 3, 2011

Savidan: Never Say Die

There's been a lot of hero worship following the *yawn* Rugby World Cup.
But look back through New Zealand's sporting history, and you'll find plenty of other sports heroes there. Like in 1930, at the first British Empire Games, Canada (the event later evolved into today's Commonwealth Games).
Eleven countries competed in six events: wrestling, swimming, rowing, boxing, lawn bowls and athletics. NZ sent 22 competitors and won nine medals: three gold, four silver and two bronze. One of those golds, won by 28yr.old Aucklander John William Savidan, was surrounded by controversy.
“Billy” (5ft.5"/165cm, 126lbs/57kg) had been a long-distance runner from 1926. He first won the NZ Cross-Country Championship in 1927 at Christchurch, and the next year he won again at Wanganui against the world record holder, Randolph Rose. Writers of the day regarded Savidan as a good track runner above two miles, but felt it was in cross-country that he was strongest...
At the Games, he was in top form in the six-mile finals (the equivalent of today’s 10,000 metres). Believing he was on his last lap, Billy powered down the home straight and raised his arms in victory as he crossed the line…15,000 watched in horror as he was told the lap official had made a mistake! He had inadvertently turned over two discs instead of one (no digital counters in those days), and there was still one more lap to go! The exhausted Savidan couldn't believe it, but the reality was confirmed by a teammate. Then like a scene from an 'against-all-odds' movie, Billy managed to collect his thoughts, get his jelly-like legs pumping and set off again. From a dead stop to a final 440 sprint must have seemed an impossible task but not only did he do it, he won, collapsing as soon as he crossed the finish line - for the second time. And he set a new Canadian record of 30:49.6 which stood for eight years.
Later when he'd recovered, insult was added to injury as the band played the English anthem Land of Hope and Glory when the kiwi stood on the victory podium to receive his gold medal!
In his other event, the three-mile (equivalent to 5,000m), Bill did not finish - too exhausted from his previous mammoth effort.
Billy Savidan's "...performances stamp him as one of the gamest distance runners NZ has ever bred, and his modest and sterling personality makes him one of the most respected athletes of his day."

1 comment:

Mike Bruce, Waitakere said...

I'd never heard of this guy, or his efforts. Thanks for the post!